WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Thursday released video it said showed a Chinese fighter jet coming dangerously close to a U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea last week.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy pilot flew the J-11 fighter in front of, and within 20 feet of, the Rivet Joint’s nose during the Dec. 21 intercept, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement.
A U.S. military spokesperson said the Chinese fighter first came about 10 feet from the Rivet Joint’s wing, before moving in front of the U.S. plane. In that position, the spokesperson said, it was unlikely the Chinese pilot could safely see the RC-135.
The spokesperson said the Air Force plane maintained its course and speed, and the Chinese fighter “dangerously drifted within 20 feet of the RC-135′s nose.”
This was “an unsafe maneuver ... forcing the RC-135 to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision,” INDOPACOM said.
The command also said the Rivet Joint was in international airspace at the time, conducting “routine operations.”
“The U.S. Indo-Pacific Joint Force is dedicated to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and will continue to fly, sail and operate at sea and in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law,” the command said. “We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.”
The U.S. military said this incident “reflects a concerning trend of unsafe and dangerous intercept practices by the PLA that are of grave concern to the United States.”
In June, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that the U.S. has “seen an alarming increase in the number of unsafe aerial intercepts and confrontations at sea by PLA aircraft and vessels.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.